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Marketing Hashtag Best Practices to Increased Social Media Traffic

If you’re a social media wizard or are still wondering “what does hashtag mean” or “what are hashtags used for” then this guide will help you maximize the potential of hashtags, and help you ensure increased traffic for your business.

What is a Hashtag?

Before their use as organizing metadata on social media, the U.S. pound sign or number sign was most used to format technology and communicate in the Information Age.

Now according to the Oxford English Dictionary a hashtag definition is as “hashtag n. (on social media websites and applications) a word or phrase preceded by a hash and used to identify messages relating to a specific topic; (also) the hash symbol itself, when used in this way."

The History of Hashtags

In August of 2007, a Twitter designer proposed the use of hashtags. Two years later, in July of 2009, Twitter officially incorporated the use of hashtags to automatically link anything that had the “#” symbol in front of it.

It took another two years for Instagram to incorporate hashtags into their platform in January of 2011, and nine more months until Google+ incorporated them.

Two years from their first appearance in the Super Bowl, almost half of Super Bowl commercials included a hashtag in their campaigns.

Vine, Flickr, and Facebook added hashtags to their platforms in January, March, and June of 2013. Though it wasn’t until June of 2014 when the Oxford English Dictionary added the word “hashtag.” The hashtag ever since has been used by brands and consumers in many different ways.

Why Use Hashtags?

There are several reasons why you would want to use hashtags. Branded hashtags are a great way to encourage people to talk about your brand.

Campaign specific hashtags help generate and organize user-generated content focused around a campaign.

Brands also use hashtags to follow trends and to be a part of industry-related conversations. If used in the right way, it’s an excellent way for your brand to get discovered.

Hashtags are also a great way to organize and categorize all of your social media posts.

Using hashtags not only helps you reach a target audience, but they help your target audience find you! Hashtags make identifying and recognizing a brand easier for the consumer, which can help with engagement.

Consumers use hashtags to find inspiration, explore brand discovery and as a research tool before making a purchase decision. Brands can use this knowledge to their advantage by curating a positive brand identity on social media through searchable hashtags.

How To Use Hashtags

Hashtags become aimless and lack their beneficial strength if they are used without a strategic approach or game plan. Just like how you want to keep your social media strategies different on each social media platform, you will want to consider these best hashtag practices for different social media platforms.

How To Use Hashtags On Twitter

  • Use hashtags to become part of a trending conversation
  • Research trending hashtags before using them, to make sure they are relevant to your business
  • Tweets with hashtags received about twice as much engagement compared to those that don’t and receive 55 percent more retweets
  • Use hashtags in your bio sparingly and don’t overcrowd it

How To Use Hashtags On Facebook

  • Though on some platforms you are allowed up to 30 hashtags, you will want to keep your hashtags on Facebook limited
  • Some studies have found that using a hashtag in a Facebook post will decrease your engagement
  • Conduct your own analysis to see if hashtags on Facebook are helping or hurting your posts

How To Use Hashtags On Instagram

  • Hashtags are critical for organic brand discovery on Instagram
  • The more hashtags you see on Instagram, the more engagement you receive until you pass a threshold of about 10
  • Use hashtags of niche groups and specific areas of interest to your buyer personas  
  • Follow your own branded hashtag so you can monitor engagement. This is a great way to create better relationships with your followers.
  • Follow competitor’s branded hashtags to see if there are subtopics you are missing out on
  • Follow relevant hashtags to be up to date with industry news
  • When searching for hashtags, you can click on a top trending photo for that hashtag and easily see the related hashtags for that post by looking at the suggested top bar
  • Don’t use hashtags in your posts that have a search volume over 3,000,000. Like the #love hashtag for example. Pictures that use overcrowded hashtags are most likely to be pushed down the feed and will barely be noticed.

How To Use Hashtags On Pinterest

  • You can use up to 20 hashtags on Pinterest, though its recommended to not use more than four per pin
  • Including a branded hashtag on your pins is a great way to increase brand awareness


How To Use Hashtags On YouTube

  • Use hashtags within comments. They are clickable and will result in a page with all of the videos that use that hashtag.
  • Hashtags in your title and description will be hyperlinked
  • You can use hashtags to search for videos
  • Don’t use more than 15 hashtags as YouTube will disregard all hashtags used in the post

How To Use Hashtags On LinkedIn

  • Follow hashtags for content that you want to see at the top of your feed
  • Use hashtags in your posts and comments to extend your content to users that are outside of your immediate network without needing to connect
  • Put hashtags within your company page to strengthen brand identity within a niche

How Do Hashtags Work?

Now that you know how to use hashtags, there are certain ways to make them work best for you. Keep your big picture goals in mind when selecting hashtags. Are you trying to create brand awareness? Or are you trying to drive traffic to a local store? Use hashtags to your advantage to accomplish your social media goals.

The Do’s and Don’ts of Hashtags

  • Do use specific hashtags and cater them to different social media platforms
  • Don’t use broad hashtags that are overcrowded
  • Don’t use hashtags in the middle of a sentence
  • Do explain to your users how you want them to use your hashtags
  • Do use specific branded hashtags and hashtags for particular campaigns
  • Do research how your brand and industry are already being discussed on social media
  • Do research before using trending hashtags. Sometimes hashtags can be hijacked to make a political point. Save your public relations team a crisis before it happens, by researching the hashtag before using it.
  • Do use trending or generic hashtags that relate to your brand. This can be a great way to capture new customers
  • Don’t make or use hashtags that are long or too clever. This will only confuse the user and make it easy for misspellings to occur.
  • Don’t use punctuation or numbers in your hashtags
  • Don’t use hashtags that have been banned from social media sites. Make sure to research these in advance, so you don’t accidentally include them in your campaign
  • Don’t hashtag everything. As seen in this comedy spoof created by Jimmy Fallon and Justin Timberlake in 2013

Final Thoughts

Hashtags can be a powerful way to increase engagement and boost your brand awareness when used in the right way. When used incorrectly they may damage your brand’s identity and spark a negative conversation online. Now that you know the best practices of how, when and where you use hashtags, you can start using them for the biggest impact.

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About the Author: Brianna Zantman

Brianna Zantman

Brianna Zantman is an advertising professional who has experience in digital marketing, radio and print-publication media buying, video project management, paid media, social media marketing, public relations, graphic design and photography (Adobe Creative Suite), SEO optimization, campaign and creative strategy. Brianna holds a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in Journalism with a specialization in Advertising and a minor in Art from San Diego State University.